Alshon Jeffery: To Sign Or Not to Sign

Alshon Jeffery: To Sign Or Not to Sign

Similar to every other offseason, the winds of change are sweeping through the Chicago Bears organization.

Nothing like last year, though.

Since the end of the 2015 regular season, Bears fans have comfortably sat on their couches and watched as seven other NFL teams scrambled to find their next head coach. The departure of offensive coordinator Adam Gase was as predictable as another Chicago sub-freezing January day.

Upper management was ready for his departure with the almost immediate promotion of former quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to offensive coordinator offering proof to this stance.

The biggest challenges facing the Bears this offseason are player personnel decisions. Running back Matt Forte’s contract has expired, and he is an unrestricted free agent. His potential departure is huge, and his veteran leadership and dependability as a rusher and pass-catcher out of the backfield is unquestioned.

But, for the first time in his eight-year career, Forte did not contribute more than 50 percent of the Bears’ rushing attempts. Rookie Jeremy Langford, who accounted for 14.7 percent of Chicago’s 5,517 yards of total offense, is set to assume the starting running back role, so Forte’s potential departure is mitigated.

[graphiq id=”f1pEaGw7989″ title=”Chicago Bears Player Rushing Distribution in 2015″ width=”600″ height=”596″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/f1pEaGw7989″ link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/26/Chicago-Bears” link_text=”Chicago Bears Player Rushing Distribution in 2015 | PointAfter”]

Unquestionably, the biggest personnel decision facing general manager Ryan Pace is what to do with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Heading into the season, it was widely speculated that Jeffery would receive a huge contract, sometimes called “No. 1 wide receiver” money. However, 2015 was not an ideal contract year for the fourth-year receiver as he battled through soft tissue injuries all season long.

Jeffery started only eight games, and questions regarding his long-term durability began to surface. The former second-round pick out of South Carolina had a broken finger during his rookie year, limiting his playing time to nine games, but during his second and third seasons, he played in all 16 regular season games.

[graphiq id=”bVMLo1FU4IZ” title=”NFCN Barroom – Alshon Jeffery Overview” width=”640″ height=”576″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/bVMLo1FU4IZ” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/10200/Alshon-Jeffery” link_text=”NFCN Barroom – Alshon Jeffery Overview | PointAfter”]

When healthy, Jeffery has proven — even without Brandon Marshall — he is a clear number one receiver and a headache for opposing defenses. Despite missing half the season, he led the team in receptions and receiving yards.

Windy City Gridiron calculated that in the nine games in which Jay Cutler had Jeffery in the lineup, the Bears quarterback averaged 260 passing yards per game; without his number one option, however, Cutler threw for a mean total of only 219 yards per game.

Additionally, Cutler’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was significantly better with Jeffery. He threw 13 touchdown passes to just five interceptions with Jeffery on the field, compared to eight scores and six picks without him as a potential target.

These numbers give Jeffery’s agent, Eugene Parker, significant leverage in contract negotiations, and Parker will surely attempt to secure one of the more lucrative wide receiver contracts in recent memory for his client

It’s unlikely Parker will land a deal making Jeffery one of the highest paid receivers of 2016, though. Calvin Johnson ($15.95 million), Julio Jones ($15.9 million) and Demaryius Thomas ($15.2 million), for example, have all proven themselves more consistently reliable than Jeffery.

But, Parker will likely still try to drive comparisons between Jeffery and Jones, as their statistical totals are not entirely dissimilar.

[graphiq id=”TMBPQdZ5ml” title=”NFCN Barroom – Julio Jones Overview” width=”640″ height=”548″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/TMBPQdZ5ml” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/10791/Julio-Jones” link_text=”NFCN Barroom – Julio Jones Overview | PointAfter”]

The Atlanta receiver signed a five year, $71.3 million contract extension this past August, according to OverTheCap. This figure may be too rich for Pace.

Expect negotiations to get interesting, maybe even tense. This will be Pace’s first major contract negotiation pertaining to the re-signing of a player in his young career as a general manager.

Last offseason, Pace signed free-agent Pernell McPhee to a five-year, $38.8 million contract, which, after the linebacker’s first year with the team, should be considered a winning deal for the organization.

Will Pace allow Jeffery to test free agency? Many people think that the Bears will not let their most potent offensive weapon walk. Whether he signed long-term or given the franchise tag — which was $12.8 million in 2015 and estimated to reach $14.5 million for the upcoming season — we probably won’t know until March.

Parenthetically, the value of a franchise tag is determined by the average of the top-five salaries at the players’ position or 120 percent of his salary from the season before, depending on which figure is larger.

Chicago could consider placing a transition tag on Jeffery as well.

The transition tag pays the receiving player the greater amount between the average top-10 salaries at his position or 120 percent of his previous year’s salary. However, it would allow Jeffery to entertain other offers, and the Bears would maintain the right to match any offer he receives.

Unlike restricted free agents, there is no draft pick compensation if the organization losing the tagged player decides against matching a purposed offer sheet.

Pace has one other option, too — sticking Jeffery with a “non-exclusive” franchise tag, which works similarly to the transition tag but would grant the Bears two first-round draft picks if upper management chooses not to match an offer that Alshon received.

Helping Jeffery’s leverage for a deal are the slim pickings among free agent wide receivers. The free agent receiver crop is headlined by aging players such as Anquan Boldin, James Jones and Malcolm Floyd.

Could Pace consider Kevin White, his number one draft pick in 2015, Jeffery’s immediate successor? White missed his entire rookie season with a shin injury, which required the insertion of a metal rod into his leg, but the hype surrounding the former West Virgina star hasn’t died down.

White was the seventh overall pick, coming off a very successful senior year with the Mountaineers. The two receivers are similar in size, with both standing at 6’3″ tall and weighing in at approximately 215 pounds.

When you compare the two receivers’ college film, both display incredibly strong hands while dominating opposing defensive backs with their size. However, there is one area where White has an advantage over Jeffery — speed.

The following video contains music lyrics that are NSFW

Coming out of college, a concern with Jeffery was his speed, or lack of it. (He was clocked at a 4.38 at his pro day.)  It played a role in the former South Carolina star falling to second round. White, on the other hand, blew away those same scouts by posting a 4.35-second time at the Combine, helping him lock in a top-10 selection.

mayock on k. white

White recently spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times, which noted that he and Jeffery share the same agent. The potential superstar mentioned his expectation of lining up across from Jeffery in 2016.

“Al wants to stay here,” White said. “We want him to stay here.”

When the dust settles after the 2016 offseason, the Bears will have a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball. On offense, a healthy White should step in and be either a half of one of the scariest receiving duos in the league or Chicago’s new number one target.

It was Jeffery himself that gave Bears fans a quote to ignite their imaginations this offseason. When asked about potentially playing opposite White next season in Chicago, he simply exclaimed:

“We’ll do something special.”

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Alshon JefferyChicago BearsFree Agency

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